Co-authoring can be… complicated. Sharing the work, feeding off of each other’s ideas, and facing reviewers together can have big advantages for how you feel about writing and publishing. But the back-and-forth on drafts, the looong waits for sections, and the steady silence at the end of a “Hey–how’s it going?” email can feel frustrating, even defeating.
To improve the quality of your co-authoring relationships, I offer these three rules to live by. If you can do these three steps, co-authoring will become much more enjoyable–and productive!
1. Set expectations with your co-author
In order to have a healthy co-authoring relationship, you need to know the other person well (or get to know them quickly).
How do they work with a deadline? Where is this project on their priority list? How much time per week will they dedicate to the project? What is their working style? Always late? Always on time? Laid back? Always pushing?
Co-authoring is like dating. Before you take the plunge, you need to know the answers to at least these basic questions. And just like finding a partner, you don’t have to have the same answers to these questions, but you do need to KNOW the answers so that you can make a decision about whether the person is a good match for you.
For a PDF checklist with these questions (and all the other important points in this blog post), put your email in this form and I’ll send it to your inbox!
2. Communicate clearly with your co-author
The most important aspect of a solid co-authoring relationship is to communicate clearly. You’ll want to lay the groundwork for this communication from the start. Have an initial call where you talk out all of these things, then follow that up with an email “contract”.
Decide authorship from the start and communicate it. Someone needs to be the leader/project manager and take firm control from the beginning. Decide who this will be up front and communicate it clearly.
You’ll also want to develop a system for communication. Will you work over email? Trello? Asana? Messenger? Slack? How often will you interact about the project? What happens when someone misses a due date? How will you handle drafts and feedback? Word? Google docs? Loom? Voxer? All of these decisions need to be made and communicated before you start the project.
3. Get out if you have to
Almost all the academic women I’ve coached have either had to deal with a co-author who disappeared or have been a co-author who is so late on their part of the work that they are overcome by guilt.
That’s why getting out of the relationship if you have to is so important.
If you haven’t heard from your co-author after repeated attempts to communicate (through the agreed-upon channels), it’s time to offer them a guilt-free way out. Compose an email where you offer them the choice to get out of the project. You’ll be surprised at how fast the person responds! Sometimes they have been waiting to quit, but couldn’t find a way to tell you. Sometimes they get a fire under their butt and get to work. Either way, giving them a way to opt out can change everything.
If you are the non-responder, it’s time to evaluate your participation in the project and get out yourself. If you really haven’t found the time to hold up your end of the bargain yet, will you? Are you holding your co-author back from tenure? Are you living with guilt and overwhelm that would be relieved by letting go of this project? Think hard and get out of the relationship if you need to. (Everyone will feel so much better!)
If you’d like my Managing Co-author Relationships Checklist, fill in your email and I’ll send it right to your inbox!